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For ages mankind has dreamed of traveling the stars and visiting distant planets. Not just astronauts but civilians too. Over the years we have seen a few of these achievements come to fruition. People have been sent up to orbit the earth and collect data for scientists back on the planet. A select few have claimed the great achievement of setting foot on the moon. A rover was even sent to Mars and transmitted back pictures of the alien surface.
Even with all these advancements over the last 30 years, space exploration is still in its infancy. The recent crash of Virgin’s Space Ship Two can attest to that. Not only are the ‘kinks’ still being worked out, but what has been explored so far, is merely a drop in the ocean when compared to the billions and billions of stars that have yet to be reached. Aside from Mars and the Moon, our own solar system remains an unexplored mystery. With the future of space tourism hinging on uncertainty; what does this mean for the average citizen?
The taxpayer no longer foots the bill
When the idea of space travel was first put on the table, it was the taxpayer’s dollars that funded the missions. Politicians formed the plan, while the working class paid for it. With the introduction of private spaceflight, the politicians have no say and the American citizen isn’t left paying for everything. The only real restriction they have is how much money is available.
Failure is an option
Private companies can fail as much as they want, within reason. They aren’t tied to an ever shrinking budget like NASA was. Unfortunately, not every test is a success, just look at Virgin Galactic. The explosion of their Space Ship Two was a tragedy and devastating blow to private space flight; but this doesn’t mean they have to call it quits. And now that the politicians can’t step in and pull the funding, that’s one less hurdle they have to deal with. Virgin now has the option to try again, if the funds are there.
Engineers play a bigger part
If one were to work for NASA as an engineer, they would be part of a larger team working together. With smaller teams being employed by private companies, it allows for a more hands on experience. The engineer actually gets to go in the field and fire the rockets, rather than sit behind a desk all day. Smaller teams and limited resources actually foster more creativity, making them almost like modern day MacGyver’s.
The price of space travel will drop
The flight of a Virgin space plane costs $250,000. That’s nothing compared to the $12 million price tag of launching a satellite into orbit. On top of that, the rocket that sends it to space can only be used once. If the privately funded space planes can make it to orbit consistently, the price of space travel is going to be drastically reduced. A host of scientists are standing by waiting to run tests on these flights. Also, lower cost means more accessible tourism.
Hypersonic travel may finally happen
Circumnavigating the globe will be achievable in an afternoon. The promise of sub-orbital travel has been talked about for a while now. Until these privately funded space flights came around, it has always been just out of reach. Right now $95,000 for a ticket still may not be for everyone, but as with any new technology it’s always expensive when it first hits that market. The first microwave cost about $5,000. Now you can pick one up for less than $50. The same thing will happen with sub-orbital flights. Once they hone the production process and discover cheaper ways to build these space planes, tickets may even be as cheap as regular commercial flights.
The view will be humbling
Every astronaut has said that seeing the planet against the infinite backdrop of space was not only awe inspiring, but life changing. What’s going to happen when an artist sees this for the first time? What happens when politicians and CEOs start to take these flights regularly? Will they be moved like the astronauts; or will it be business as usual?
Even though Richard Branson suffered a major set-back, this doesn’t leave him down and out. Without politicians calling the shots, they can go back to the drawing board and try again. This doesn’t mean that failure isn’t costly; this just means that without the threat of having funding pulled, they have a better chance of learning from their mistakes. Whatever Virgin is doing in the wake of this tragedy, people need to start seriously thinking about how space tourism will affect their lives and how it’s about to change the world.
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